The number of confirmed COVID-19 infections in Santa Cruz County residents has more than tripled in the past two weeks, reaching 130 by Thursday afternoon, according to data from the County Health Services Department.

The recent rise in cases prompted the county government to issue an advisory to local residents to “be aware the virus is now being spread throughout the community.”

“If you must go out, please limit your outings only to those outings that are necessary, practice social distancing, wear masks in public and please stay home if you are having symptoms or are feeling sick,” said the notice, issued on Wednesday evening.

On May 7, there were 40 confirmed infections among county residents, though 32 of the affected people had recovered. That meant there were eight active local infections at the time.

By May 21, there were 56 recoveries among the 130 total confirmations, meaning there were 74 active cases among county residents.

Statistics posted Thursday morning by the Arizona Department of Health Services showed that Santa Cruz had the fourth-highest rate of confirmed COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents among the state’s 15 counties, trailing only Apache, Navajo and Coconino.

The recent jump in local cases comes as Arizona’s leaders have lifted restrictions in an effort to re-start the state’s economy. 

Starting May 8, Gov. Doug Ducey began allowing businesses and services that he had previously ordered to close – such as restaurant dining areas, salons, barbershops, gyms, fitness centers and retailers selling “non-essential” products – to re-open, as long as they implemented measures to protect against the spread of COVID-19. He allowed the stay-at-home order he imposed starting March 31 to expire at midnight last Friday, May 15.

“When you look at what most physicians and doctors say, the decision to kind of lax, or re-open a lot of things in the state isn’t necessarily based on science,” said Dr. Phil Williams of the Mariposa Community Health Center.

Speaking on Tuesday, Williams said he had gone to the Walmart in Nogales earlier that day, where at best, half of the people he saw were wearing a mask.

“In the last few weeks especially, I think, our social distancing has become a lot more lax and people, they are getting together. That fear they initially had is kind of dissipating,” he said.

“That is, of course, very concerning, and I think that’s one of the things that’s leading to our current surge.”

The local jump in confirmed infections also comes on the heels of Easter and Mother’s Day, and in the run-up to the long Memorial Day weekend – all periods in which people tend to gather socially.

“I think the message is that we cannot lower our guard,” said Dr. Eladio Pereira, chief medical officer at MCHC. “The virus cannot detect Mother’s Day, the virus doesn’t have political affiliations. There are no barriers for this to be transmitted.”

Pereira said we should all act as though we have COVID-19. “Because if we do, we use masks, we keep the distance, and we wash our hands,” he said.

Gabriela Calvillo, director of nursing in MCHC’s adult medicine division, said it can be especially difficult for young people to maintain preventative behaviors, particularly when it comes to social distancing.

“It’s difficult sometimes for, especially young children, to understand,” she said. “But we as parents have to set that example for them.”

State data available Thursday morning that took into account 123 of the 130 local cases showed that 68 had been mapped to the 85621 zip code that includes Nogales and unincorporated areas immediately to the north of city limits and east to Patagonia Lake. Another 50 cases were plotted to the 85648 (Rio Rico) zip code.

The Elgin (85611), Patagonia (85624), Tubac (85646) and Amado (85645) zip codes had between one and five cases each. The Amado and Elgin zip codes include areas in Pima and Cochise counties, respectively, as well as Santa Cruz.

In Nogales, Sonora, there were 151 confirmed COVID-19 infections and seven deaths as of Wednesday evening, according to a report by the state health secretary. That was up from 107 cases and five deaths as of Sunday evening.

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